I always look forward to the weeks before Christmas, perhaps because, as a teacher of young children, each year I experience a new dimension – a “new revised version” – of the timeless Christmas message.
I feel how privileged adults are who can spend time telling children about the Christmas symbols, traditions, and the true Christmas story. (I’m lucky to teach in a private school.) Each year around mid-November, I dust off my collection of time-tested favorites and we pore over the pictures, learn the poems, sing the songs, listen to the CDs, and feel the old characters coming alive. The biblical story of the first Christmas prompts immediate heart-responses from my class of six- and seven-year-olds, and straightforward belief and acceptance.
Then suddenly there’s that moment when I realize our roles are reversed, and I’m the one being taught. I hear the story excitedly retold to me with new facts and information unknown before freely added in, and complicated questions simply answered. I see new ideas and illustrations flow out on paper, new songs hummed. And I go home each evening with numerous Christmas treasures to hold in my heart and ponder.
“Teacher, can you refill the glitter? We need more! It’s better to take the top of the shaker off and just use our hands…!” There’s glitter on the desks, on the floor; glitter flying around the classroom in shiny puffs. Later, when I get home and my kids laugh at the glitter on my lips and glasses, I realize why a few passersby eyed me somewhat strangely on my walk. I think again how thrilled my class is with the heavenly transformation a handful of glitter can render. Hey, glitter surely must be heavenly stardust that needs to be heavily applied to every gloomy situation! I should really carry a shaker of it home, I think…
In the middle of math class I call on a child for the answer to an equation (we’re working at basic addition). He looks up with big eyes – “Ornaments. What’s an ornament?”
“Oh,” interrupts another, “I know, I can show you how to make real beautiful things to hang up with a toilet roll!”
Forget math. Talk about ornaments and organize the rest of the week’s numeracy lessons around ornaments. The next day I arrive to find my desk strewn with empty toilet rolls. I overhear one child tell how she “got lots.” Wow, what did she do with the paper? I wonder.
There’s an intensity and urgency in all our work – a sudden focus and efficiency to produce things for Christmas. Most important, it’s all directed toward others. So many new ideas, each day is too short.
The ornaments have been finished. The class decides to draw the Christmas characters. Everyone tries their best. “What’s that?” a boy asks honestly as he spies his neighbor’s scribbles. “What?! Mary?! She does not look like that. She is special. She looks like the mother of God!”
The artist blinks back tears, and I quickly remind them that none of us knows how Mary looked.
Then two boys working on the crib and the baby Jesus suddenly squabble. “You will not color him that color!” I quietly suggest that maybe a little peace should surround the baby – and they are happily working again.
When each child has freely drawn a character just in the way he or she imagined, we assemble our finished picture. It’s perfect. Every child has contributed a unique new spark that makes our picture alive – right down to the third king, who was drawn so hastily he has no eyes and hands and must really have had a hard time blindly following the star while somehow bearing a gift.
What a mix, I think – a tear, a kick, a smile, a squabble – and at the end, Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. And isn’t that Christmas? Jesus came to us as we are, the heavenly mixed with the earthly, and the light of heaven always stronger, always bright and happy, with no memory of the little quarrels along the way. No room left for unpeace, unresolved tensions, grudges. Just the beautiful message, the thrill and joy of Christmas, to which everyone with a childlike heart can respond.